Jason R. Johnston Jason R. Johnston

Siempre Natural TV Commercial Shoot

Earlier this year I was asked by Jerry Medina, principle of advertising agency Aviso Media Group, to photograph a new campaign of television commercials for Siempre Natural, a quick-service restaurant franchise, in Mexico and Texas, with a menu they describe as ‘American with a Mexican Flair’. Siempre Natural serves wraps, pitas, yogurts and salads with natural fruit drinks. To promote the healthy (and tasty) brand, the new spots would need to be as colorful, fresh, and fun, as their food. After discussing the desired style of the spots with Jerry, we began prep. It was decided we would need at least three bilingual employees, plus 15-20 extras.

DVX200 with GenusTech mattebox, Atomos Ninja Blade, and SmallHD AC7-SDI, on a Sachtler head.

This past Friday evening, I met with Jerry and representatives of the client at the North 10th location in McAllen, Texas. We discussed our intentions for the weekend shoot and formulated our plans. I scouted the location with my iPhone 7 Plus, Cadrage, a director’s finder app, Cine Meter II, a light meter app, and Sky Guide, an app very useful for predicting the travel of our sun. Cadrage, a French word meaning ‘framing’, is very useful as it can emulate the field of view of any combination of camera and lens. Once the pre-viz images have been recorded, a PDF shot list can be created and emailed to anyone on the production team. Production would commence Saturday morning from 7 to 11 AM, and Sunday morning 9 AM to 12 noon.

6×6′ butterfly, a redhead kicker and a mini flood exposing the background. Note the black muslin severely cutting the outside light.

When I arrived Saturday morning, I ordered the front, Eastward-facing windows and glass door, covered in black muslin to avoid fighting color temperatures and morning shadows. Unhappy with the weak punch and short throw of my available LED lights, I had recently created an old-school tungsten light kit for use on an upcoming short film. Consisting of three Strand Ianiro 1000 ‘redheads’, as well as the Strand version of what Arri calls a ‘mini flood’, I immediately put the new-to-me kit to use on the production of these TV spots.

Two redheads punch through the artificial silk, plus a third with 216 as a kicker.
I can’t believe all this stuff fits in my Nissan Sentra.

The Ianiro redheads are proper 1k tungsten open-face focus-flood lights and need to be softened for flattering closeups. I would generally punch two redheads through a 6×6″ butterfly of artificial silk. On closeups and direct-to-camera standups I would use a small, bi-color, LED Obie light set at 3200º Kelvin with just enough punch to lighten up the shadows. Backgrounds would be lit with the mini flood, plus another redhead through 216 for a kicker.

DVX200 with GenusTech mattebox, Atomos Ninja Blade, and SmallHD AC7-SDI, on a Sachtler head.

I opted to shoot the footage with my Panasonic AG-DVX200 video camera. Needing at least 1080/24p ProRes 422 10-bit to pull a grade from the camera’s Varicam V-log L and 10-bit 4:2:2 output, I recorded the footage externally to my Atomos Ninja Blade, and monitored the footage with my SmallHD AC7-SDI on-camera field monitor. Preferring physical filtration, I used DVX200’s built-in neutral density for exposure, plus a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/2 to take the digital edge off.

Harley delivers her lines in a closeup. I used an LED Obie light to soften up her shadows.

We did not have the time we needed to sweeten every shot as much as I would have enjoyed, but I think the photography is dynamic and colorful enough to squelch any nags. Also, I believe the 12 stops of dynamic range afforded by the DVX200’s V-log L, as well as the 10-bit 4:2:2 recording via the Atomos Ninja Blade, help by giving me plenty of room to grade the footage reasonably well in post.

The spots will be cut and graded in Final Cut Pro X. Overall, I am happy with how they are turning out.

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